Out of the Wings

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La casa de las chivas (1968), Jaime Salom Vidal

English title: The House of the Chivas
Date written: 1968
First publication date: 1969
First production date: 22 March 1968
Keywords: violence > social, family > marriage, family > patriarchy, history, ideology > religion and faith, family > brothers/sisters, power > war, power > use and abuse, love > lust, women > marginalisation of, society > poverty, family > mothers and daughters, love, women
Genre and type: tragedy
Title information

In Spanish ‘chiva’ refers to a kid goat. It is also a colloquial term for a naughty little girl.


During the Spanish Civil War a group of soldiers requisition the house of a senile old man with two beautiful daughters. The rules of normal life do not apply, and desire, boredom and jealousy soon leads to an explosive, and ultimately tragic, situation.


In a battle-weary village, a small group of Republican soldiers live with Petra, her younger sister Trini, and their senile old father. This is the House of the Chivas, named after ‘la Chiva’, the girls’ mother. La Chiva was a sexually-voracious woman who left her husband and young daughters to seek pastures new. She has never been seen since. La Chiva’s daughters have inherited some of her wild ways. It is 1938, and the Spanish Civil War has ravaged the region. Food is scarce and Petra offers the soldiers sexual favours in exchange for supplies. She is a domineering young woman, who at times seems to enjoy the rude attentions heaped on her by the men under her roof. Trini, in contrast, is a naïve young girl. Bored, she desperately wants to experience something of life before the war strips her of all happiness. But Petra forbids Trini from having much to do with the soldiers living with them. One night, Trini tires of her sister’s prohibitions and goes downstairs to join the soldiers smoking and listening to music. That same night, Juan arrives. Unlike his fellow soldiers, Juan is neither crude nor lascivious. His kind manner towards both Petra and Trini soon has both the sisters arguing over him. But, despite enjoying the girls’ company, Juan shows no sexual interest in either of them.

After a few weeks, Trini gets frustrated with Juan’s lack of interest in her. She propositions him in his bedroom. Trini is beautiful and Juan struggles to resist her charms. But resist he does. Angry at the rejection, Trini wakes the household and claims that Juan tried to rape her. But there is a war on, and the soldiers are too tired and weary to care. Her accusation is received with both indifference and disbelief, not least by Petra, who sees through her sister’s cynical lie. Trini then tries a different tactic to take revenge on Juan for his slight. She casts doubt on his sexuality. But Juan is not homosexual. Petra discovers him praying in his bedroom, and realises that this unusually kind and honourable soldier is a man of devout faith.

Petra does not tell Trini the real reason why Juan refused to sleep with her. Still smarting from the rejection, Trini embarks on a sexual relationship with one of the other soldiers, Mariano. The relationship worries and saddens Juan: although he rejected Trini, he nevertheless feels protective of this young and vulnerable girl. Mariano already has a family, far away. But this is wartime, and the household make the best of the scandal. Consequently, Trini’s senile father permits her to ‘marry’ Mariano. After only a week, however, Trini is already tired of being married to the domineering and macho Mariano. Her spirit is restless, much like that of her mother, la Chiva. But there is little time for distractions. A bomb destroys most of the house. Juan’s bedroom is hit, but thankfully he was on duty when the bomb fell. His luck, however, is not shared by the youngest of the soldiers, Nene. Nene is killed by a stray bullet, right after losing his virginity to Petra. The proximity of death, and her guilt at having taken such innocence from Nene, leads Petra to suddenly feel ashamed for all her reckless sexual behaviour. She asks Juan to pardon her in the eyes of God. Even though Juan is not a priest, he absolves her of her sins.

Several months go by, and the House of the Chivas lies abandoned. A battle still rages in the surrounding area, leading some of the former residents to take refuge in the ruins of the house. Juan comes looking for supplies, just as Mariano and Trini arrive, looking for gasoline. Trini is pregnant, and when she sees Juan all her old feelings come flooding back. Petra eventually told her that Juan rejected her because of his faith and not his sexuality. Trini tries again to discover whether Juan has – or had – any love or desire for her. His response is vague, as he resorts to religious platitudes. Trini understands that she will never be able to compete with God for Juan’s affections. Suddenly, she drives off alone in Mariano’s truck. Mariano and Juan watch helplessly as she heads deliberately towards enemy gunfire, and is immediately killed.

The play ends with a quick epilogue, telling us that Juan became a vicar in a large city. Petra lived out a chaste life, caring for her father and, surprisingly, her mother – la Chiva – who was miraculously found in a local hospital.


The play is set in a Republican region of Spain in 1938, during the Spanish Civil War (1936-9).

Critical response

The House of the Chivas is one of Jaime Salom’s most successful and most-frequently staged plays. It was awarded the National Theatre prize in 1968. Since the first performances of the play it has been staged over 7000 times in Spain alone. Salom himself points to one of the reasons why the play was a success, in that it was one of the first times that Spanish audiences had seen characters from the defeated side of the Spanish Civil War being depicted as human beings (Conde Guerri 2004: 334).

  • Conde Guerri, María José. 2004. ‘Jaime Salom: La casa de las Chivas’. In Historia y antología del teatro español de posguerra (1966-1970), vol. VI, eds. Víctor García Ruiz y Gregorio Torres Nebrera, pp. 333-8. Madrid, Fundamentos (in Spanish)

  • Salom, Jaime. 1969. La casa de las chivas. Madrid, Escelicer

  • Salom, Jaime. 2004. ‘La casa de las chivas’. In Historia y antología del teatro español de posguerra (1966-1970), vol. VI, eds. Víctor García Ruiz y Gregorio Torres Nebrera, pp. 339-415. Madrid, Fundamentos

Entry written by Gwynneth Dowling. Last updated on 6 June 2011.

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